New MAFFS II used for first time on a fire

A C-130J Super Hercules from the California Air National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Island ANG Station, Calif., drops water during annual training with the new MAFFS 2 in South Carolina in April, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nicholas Carzis)

Yesterday two Mobile Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) air tankers from the California Air National Guard were used on the Skinner fire at Lake Skinner in southern California during a lightning bust that started numerous fires across the southern part of the state. The 146th Airlift wing out of the Channel Islands base put the new MAFFS 2 units in C-130s and it was the first time that the new systems had been used on a fire.

As Wildfire Today reported on January 28, 2009, the MAFFS 2 holds 400 more gallons of retardant than the original MAFFS, for a total of 3,400 gallons. And the nozzles, instead of exiting out the rear loading dock, are now routed through a sealed portal (a modified paratrooper door) on the plane’s left side. This makes it possible for the plane to be pressurized; in addition, the crew and the rear door will no longer be soaked by the retardant since the rear door can remain closed.

The new MAFFS 2 systems were first delivered in early 2009 or late 2008, but as far we we know, no MAFFS aircraft were used on fires in 2009. If we have a fire season with average or above average activity, we may see the MAFFS used more this year, since there are only 18 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts, down from 44 in 2002.

Here is an excerpt from an article in today’s My Valley News:

RIVERSIDE – At least one California Air National Guard C-130 with upgraded retardant-dropping equipment will be available today for firefighting missions in Riverside County and other Southland locations if needed.

A three-member Air Guard crew flew the first upgraded C-130 wildfire mission Thursday evening, dropping 3,000 gallons of retardant on the Skinner fire east of Murrieta, California National Guard Maj. Kimberly Holman said.

It was the first use on a live fire of the new MAFFS II system — units that roll into and out of C-130 aircraft — which can be re-loaded at any tanker base in Southern California, including Hemet, San Bernardino and Fox Field near Lancaster, Holman told City News Service.

The new system replaces original MAFFS units that have been in use more than 30 years, Holman said.

At 6:45 p.m. Thursday, a three-member crew in a gray, four-engine turboprop C-130 flew from the Channel Islands station about one hour north of Los Angeles and made one drop on the Skinner fire, Holman said in a telephone interview.

The C-130 crew included a pilot, co-pilot and a loadmaster, who coordinated with a Forest Service pilot in a lead air attack plane to time their drop, Holman said.

The crew will be available for more drops by 9 a.m. today, Holman said, and they are expected to continue to support firefighters on the ground over the next several days.

“This is the first time we have dropped on an actual fire with the MAFFS II equipment and it performed flawlessly,” said Col. Paul Hargrove, 146th Airlift Wing Commander.

The MAFFS II system makes military firefighting less costly and more efficient, Hargrove said.

The Skinner fire, first reported at 3:42 p.m. Thursday, had burned more than 700 acres by early today, according to Cal Fire-Riverside County.

The fire burned at a rapid rate of speed and more lightning strikes are expected over the next several days, California Air National Guard officials said.

The U.S. Forest Service gave the first launch order at about 6:15 p.m., Holman said.

More information

MAFFS II air tanker tank
The Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) II tank is displayed for the local media during the MAFFS 2008 annual certifying training at Channel Islands Air Guard Station, Calif., May 7, 2008. US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian E. Christiansen.

Testing a MAFFS 2

Testing a MAFFS wildland firefighting unit
(Click for a larger photo) Air Force Reserve C-130 Hercules loadmasters fire the Modular Airborne Firefighting System II unit April 22 during the 302nd Airlift Wing's annual MAFFS wet fire test at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. The wing test fired the new "MAFFS II" system in preparation for the U.S. Forest Service's MAFFS certification week April 25-May 1 in Greenville, S.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Collier)

The Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS) air tanker aircraft and crews are in South Carolina this week for training and recertification. The photo above shows the new generation of MAFFS, the MAFFS 2, being tested. It discharges the water or retardant out the side paratroop door rather than out the rear ramp.

MAFFS heading to South Carolina for recertification

Loadmaster Bill Whitlatch operates a new MAFFS 2 unit aboard a C-130J aircraft with the Channel Islands Air National Guard. Photo by Stephen Osman, Ventura County Star.

This morning the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing in Cheyenne, Wyoming is loading their two Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) into a couple of C-130J aircraft in preparation for annual recertification of the equipment and the pilots and crews operating them. They will join six other C-130J’s at the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center in Greenville, South Carolina from April 24 until May 1.

Up to 400 military and civilian personnel will participate in the recertification for the air tankers, including both classroom and flight training for military flight crews, civilian lead plane pilots and various support personnel. MAFFS support specialists and aviators from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, North Carolina Forest Service, and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection will lead the week-long training.

In addition to the Wyoming MAFFS, the other six, two from each base, will come from the 145th Airlift Wing of the North Carolina Air National Guard in Charlotte, N.C.; the 146th Airlift Wing of the California Air National Guard in Port Hueneme, Calif., and the 302nd Airlift Wing with the U.S. Air Force Reserve of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

A few months ago the MAFFS bases began accepting delivery of a new generation of the equipment. Called MAFFS 2 (photo of MAFFS 2 test), they are also designed to be rolled into the back of C-130 aircraft, but they hold 400 more gallons, for a total of 3,400 gallons of retardant. However the main difference is that the nozzles, instead of exiting out the rear loading dock, are routed through a sealed portal (a modified paratrooper door) on the plane’s left side. This makes it possible for the plane to be pressurized; in addition, the crew and the rear door will no longer be coated with retardant. Wildfire Today wrote more about the new MAFFS 2 back in January.

MAFFS is a partnership between federal land management agencies and the military to provide supplemental air tankers to assist in fire suppression efforts nationwide during times of high fire activity. The system itself is a portable fire retardant delivery system that can be easily inserted into military C-130 aircraft, converting the vessel into an air tanker when the civilian fleet is fully committed.

Congress established the authority for the MAFFS program in the early 1970’s to support wildland firefighting through an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service. The military aircraft are requested by the National Interagency Fire Center and activated through the U.S. Northern Command, based on an agreement with the Department of Defense. The most recent MAFFS mission was mobilized in June 2008.

UPDATE April 22, 2010:

The Herkybirds.com site, which is devoted to C-130’s, has more information about the benefit of pumping the retardant out the side paratroop door, rather than out the back. According to “Maxtorq”:

The glory part about the system is hardly any clean up after flights . With the old system it would just cover the tail section , beaver tail, elevators and mist inside the ramp doors. All of our birds after so many hours had to be sent to depot to have the aft end of the aircraft removed and stripped and painted.

After MAFFS during the fire season it would come home for aircraft wash, the ramps floor deck would all have to come out along with D/Rails to be cleaned.

Thanks Chuck

New MAFFS units

Loadmaster Bill Whitlatch operates a new MAFFS 2 unit aboard a C-130J aircraft Tuesday with the Channel Islands Air National Guard. Photo by Stephen Osman, Ventura County Star.

The U. S. Forest Service has accepted the delivery and started training with two new Mobile Airborne Fire Fighting Systems, MAFFS, which will be used in C-130 aircraft operated by the Air National Guard based at Port Hueneme, California. In development by Aero Union since 2000, the two units are the first of a total of eight new systems, called “MAFFS 2” that should be delivered and ready for firefighting by May. These will replace the older units that have been used for a very long time.

The MAFFS 2 are designed to be rolled into the back of C-130 aircraft and hold about 3,000 3,400 gallons of retardant.

MAFFS II air tanker tank
The Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) II tank is displayed for the local media during the MAFFS 2008 annual certifying training at Channel Islands Air Guard Station, Calif., May 7, 2008. US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian E. Christiansen.

Some of the changes in the design include:

  • The nozzles, instead of exiting out the rear loading dock, are routed through a sealed portal (a modified paratrooper door) on the plane’s left side. This makes it possible for the plane to be pressurized; in addition, the crew and the rear door will no longer be soaked by the retardant.
  • The old and new MAFFS use compressed air to pump the retardant out of the tanks. The old system required that the aircraft land to be pressurized by a dedicated air compressor system at a MAFFS base. The new system has on-board air compressors, which will enable the C-130’s to reload the retardant at any air tanker base and refill the air tank on the fly, so to speak. It takes 35 minutes to recharge the compressed air tank after a drop.
  • The retardant is pumped out under greater pressure and velocity. That feature, and the reconfigured side nozzle will result in a denser stream of retardant which will hopefully penetrate timber canopy better than the original systems. This may make it feasible for the pilots to fly higher and faster, adding an additional margin of safety. Pilots hate flying slow and low over mountainous terrain.
  • The new system delivers retardant at twice the coverage rate of the older systems, at “coverage level 8”, or 8 gallons of fluid per 100 square feet, which is the maximum required by the U. S. Forest Service.
  • There is one report that claims the new system holds 400 more gallons, but that is not yet now confirmed. UPDATE: The new single-tank system will hold 3,400 gallons.

MAFFS are operated out of four three Air National Guard bases in California, Colorado, Wyoming, and North Carolina, and a Reserve base in Colorado.  Each unit has two MAFFS, however the base in California has not flown any MAFFS for 2 years since the unit upgraded from C-130E’s to J models, which cannot accommodate the original MAFFS. The new units can be used in either C-130 model.

There has been heavy criticism during the last 2 years from politicians and others about the inability of the California C-130’s to use the MAFFS.

The aircraft can be requested by the U. S. Forest Service after it is confirmed that all commercial air tankers are committed. It takes about 24 hours to configure a C-130 to utilize a MAFFS.

Photo of an older MAFFS dropping the retardant out of the rear door. Air Force photo, by Staff Sgt. Alex Koenig.

The U.S. Forest Service has a web site with information about the development of a MAFFS 2 prototype, but it has not been updated since July, 2006.